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October 10, 2012


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Is there any public opinion actually supportive of starting an armed conflict with the United Kingdom over the Falklands? That, more than the respective military capabilities of the two countries or the resource potential of the Falklands and their waters, seems the critical thing.

Short answer: yes.

But why would you think otherwise, if an Argentine government wanted to fight? Is there not enough evidence of elected government's rallying public opinion to go to war?

Stop being such a hippie, Randy! :-)

Anyway, in April, with no government attempts to rally public opinion to a war and all the evidence in the world that a war would be lost, 26% of Argentines reported that they supported military action.

Give me a good pretext and win the resulting war, and that would be up to 80%.

Actually, all the ABC powers have fallen behind. Well, Brail keeps flirting with buying...something...up to date for its airforce, but the F-X2 program is on hold.

Venezuela is probably the closest to updating its AF with Su-30s, but that's an old design, too. Prototypes flew in 1992.

That percentage is ... surprisingly high. To me, at least.

I hadn't been aware that the Argentine government wanted war. That it wanted the Falklands back, yes, but I was imagining some kind of handover on the model of Hong Kong.

Buenos Aires doesn't want a war ... because it would lose. But it also doesn't want a war for war's sake. It would be ecstatic if Britain agreed to hand over the islands.

Thing is, that won't happen either. So unless something radically changes in terms of Argentine or U.K. military capacities, this conflict will remain frozen for decades to come.

In fact, there are precedents, again assuming no change in the military balance:

(1) Guatemala-Belize: the two countries came close to war in 2000, but nobody had much appetite for it. (In part because the U.K. protects Belize, as does the U.S.) Still, the Guatemalan claim simmers.

(2) Venezuela-Guyana: If Hugo could pull it off, he would march in. Venezuelan maps show most of Guyana as the "Reclamation Zone." Heck, Venezuelan license plates show that.

(3) Chile-Bolivia: 'nuff said. The Chileans, I have to add, have been willing to return a symbolic strip to Bolivia, but since that territory had been annexed originally from Peru, the Peruvians put the kibosh on it.

(4) Peru-Ecuador: they fought a war in 1995. It was basically a draw and paved the way for a peace settlement in 1998.

Fair enough. It's not obvious to me, though, that even if the military balance was more equal, something closer to what prevailed in 1981, that Argentina would go to war anyway. The Argentine government that did go to war in 1982 was pretty much an outlier by the standards of Argentine governments, right, in its willingness to use force to settle everything? Would a democratic Argentina that has downgraded the status and power of the military sharply be willing to launch a war?

25%, huh? 25% of Americans polled would also favour using largish nuclear weapons against terrorists.


Plus, 27% of Illinois voters voted for Keyes over Obama back in 2004. What is it about these crazy quarters, I wonder?

There's a problem with the way you phrased the question, I think. An Argentine government that had redressed the military balance with Britain would not be, by definition, one that had downgraded the status and power of the military.

Could you rephrase?

OK. How do Argentines look upon their country's military? Do they see it as an institution worthy of their trust, embodying values of duty and service that their country needs? Or do they suspect it and its motives?

The last time the Argentine military played a prominent role in decision-making in Argentina, the economy collapsed, tens of thousands of Argentines were brutally murdered, and the country lost a war badly. That sort of catasttrophic track record makes me suspect that Argentines don't favour a strong military and don't favour the sorts of tactics the military used in the past. The sustained low level of spending on the military--half the level of the United Kingdom, more comparable to that of Canada--is also suggestive to me. Am I wrong?

In the case that Argentina did decide to spend more money on its military than the ~1% of GDP it has been spending for the past while, it's still not obvious to me that Argentina would be inclined to start a military conflict with the United Kingdom over the Falklands. Those tactics would seem to have been discredited by failure.

Yes, you've got a quarter of the Argentine population who'd like to invade the Falklands. You've also got a quarter of the American population who'd like to use nukes to kill terrorists. On the one hand, this suggests that alarming proportions of both populations would like to do terrible things to achieve their nation's goals; on the other hand, this suggests that large majorities of both populations don't.

Um. Is this coherent enough?

Sort of. First, we're edging towards one of those straw man arguments, you know, where one person starts defending an argument that he or she was not making. So ... I have not suggested that a war is inevitable under any circumstances. Your argument seems to be: Argentina could spend more on its military without making war with Britain inevitable. I agree with that, of course.

What it would do is make war possible.

You've drawn a parallel between Argentine support for military action against the U.K. with American support for the use of nuclear weapons against terrorists. The problem is that the parallel doesn't tell us anything.

First, the two things aren't really the same.

Second, we have no information on the intensity of opposition in either case.

Third, a poll that suggests that large majorities oppose an action right now is not the same thing as saying that large majorities oppose that same action under any circumstances.

It is not hard to imagine situations under which an American government would use nuclear weapons against terrorists and receives public accolades for it regardless of public opinion ex ante. (There is a television show on ABC right now with just this premise!)

It is also not hard to imagine situations where an Argentine government goes to war over the Falklands and receives public accolades regardless of public opinion ex ante ... by dint of winning.

In short, do we disagree on anything?

I put my answer to your question about attitudes towards the military in another post.

Let me add that Argentine relationship with the military is complicated, as in many ex-military dictatorships. The military is not trusted. Argentina is one of (remarkably few) Latin American countries where pollsters just can't get a majority of the public to support a military coup. A plurality did support more spending in a 2002 poll, but that hasn't led to anything. Not only is the hardware outdated, but two weeks ago wildcat strikes started in the coast guard and border patrol over low wages.

But what there isn't in Argentina is significant pacifism, a la Germany. And there is, on all sides of the political spectrum, a rather intense nationalism.

Given that, Argentine distrust of the military can change. It already has changed in Brazil.

Me, I don't think that Argentina is going to have the capability to wage aggressive war for a very long time --- not because of to pacifism or anti-militarism. Rather, it's because absent a real external threat there are more short-term votes in spending money on other things.

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